In a message for the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of all priests, the Bishop of Plymouth has invited priests to look back on their ordination day “with a sense of deep joy”.
Speaking through personal experience, Bishop Mark O’Toole asked all priests to be “grateful to God for His fidelity to us through the years, and grateful, too, for the people who have accompanied us in those years”.
Humorously, noting the passage of time, he remarked: “Many things may have changed. Certainly, when we look at ourselves, the hair may be lighter in quantity and in colour. The figure may be more substantial”, but what remains is “the priestly heart”.
Expressing his thanks to each priest “especially in these challenging months”, the bishop acknowledged that “many, many people have cause to be grateful for your fidelity, your generosity and your kindness”.
“We all give thanks to God for your faithful priestly ministry,” he added.
Reflecting on his own childhood and growing up with a familiar image of the Sacred Heart, which always “spoke of safety and security, the warm embrace of home”, Bishop O’Toole urged all to see in the Sacred Heart, “the one who lights our way and illumines a path in the darkness”.
“You know, I grew up in a home where the image of the Sacred Heart was kept in our entrance hallway, in a place of honour,” he said. “It usually had an electric votive light before it, which was rather gaudy, it has to be said. Yet there was something very comforting about opening the door to our flat and seeing this image aglow. It spoke of safety and security, the warm embrace of home. The light before the Sacred Heart was kept on all through the night. I remember especially as a teenager how its gentle glow provided a tender light in the dark as I returned home from various social nights out.”
The bishop pointed out that it is in Jesus’ heart “we discover our deepest place of safety and security” and it is “there we are to make our home”.
“He is the one who lights our way and illumines a path in the darkness. Devotion to the Sacred Heart is rooted in the truth that in Jesus, for the first time, the infinite love of God found a fitting resonance in the heart of a human being. In meditating on His Sacred Heart, we discover the true nature of who Jesus is. His was a heart on fire with love for His Father, seeking the Father’s will and always at One in His heart with the Father. At the same time, His was a heart on fire for our world, especially for those most in need. The Gospels are filled with the accounts of Jesus’ compassion, His service of the poor, and His loving outreach to those who seemed furthest from God.
“Out of love for the world, he went to the Cross. To bring us, once more, access to the Father’s house,” Bishop O’Toole continued. “From his wounded side flows blood and water, a sign to us of that great gift of the Sacraments, born from the open heart of the Saviour. In the sacraments, the infinite and the finite meet. What we see, touch, taste is one thing. What is given – God’s life – is another. We long for that day when the sacraments may be celebrated fully in our Churches and all have access to them, once more.”
Bishop O’Toole explained that the finite and infinite also meet in the priesthood. Citing St John Vianney – “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Christ” – he pointed out that “the priest does not act on his own”.
“The heart of the priest is united in a unique way to the heart of Jesus, who called him to this beautiful but challenging life,” he said. “Today, perhaps more than ever, we priests are called to be men of prayer, abiding always in the heart of Jesus. We must be willing to die to ourselves, so that we can live more fully in the One who called us and made us His priests. At the same time, a priest must be a man for others. We are called to have the heart of the shepherd, always ready to lay down our lives for the sake of the sheep entrusted to our care.”
However, Bishop O’Toole recognised that priests “are weak, sinful. Sometimes we fail. We get things wrong. We hurt others and must seek forgiveness”. He, nevertheless, urged his brother priests “to make our home in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and find there the fulfilment of our lives and the resting place for all our longings”.
Picture: The Bishop of Plymouth, Mark O’Toole. (Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk).